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Global economy gets personal

By Jason Alderman

By simply flapping its wings, a butterfly in the Amazon rainforest can set off an atmospheric chain reaction that will eventually trigger a tornado in Texas – or so says a popular, if highly implausible, explanation for how small actions can cause ripple effects far outside their domain.

There's a financial "Butterfly Effect" taking place across the globe right now: We've seen how U.S. housing foreclosures are impacting economies halfway around the world; and because laid-off workers here and abroad are buying fewer luxury items, whole factories in China are closing.

Clearly the "global economy" is here to stay, so we all need to learn how to anticipate and plan for the impact that seemingly unrelated events can have on our own finances. But the challenge many people face is how to learn more about personal – and global – finances so they can protect themselves.

That's why several years ago Congress officially designated April as National Financial Literacy Month. In the coming weeks, organizations around the country will sponsor events and provide educational materials designed to provide people with the tools they need to establish and maintain sound personal finance habits.

One such event is the Third Annual Financial Literacy and Education Summit being hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Visa Inc. on April 20, 2009. This free, web-accessible roundtable brings together an international group of public policy, non-profit agency and private sector financial experts to discuss the significant economic challenges facing people of all ages around the world.

According to Charles L. Evans, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, "The goal of this year's Summit is to examine how various regions of the world approach financial education and how, in light of the global crisis, we can apply best practices to ensure that consumers have the necessary tools and resources to make wise financial decisions."

Some key questions that will be addressed at this year's Summit include:

  • Given the current state of the global economy, what are the most pressing personal finance issues people face today?
  • What financial literacy program successes can we learn from and what challenges do we face?
  • What specific measures have been successful in alleviating financial illiteracy in other countries and what role should U.S. policymakers play in adapting applicable solutions?

The Summit will be moderated by personal finance expert Jean Chatzky, the best-selling author who serves as finance editor for NBC's "Today Show" and is a contributor to "The Oprah Winfrey Show." To register to watch the webcast of this important summit, go to

In the meantime, there are numerous resources you can tap to further your and your children's financial education, including:

  • The Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy offers a clearinghouse of more than 700 books, pamphlets, DVDs and other materials on financial literacy topics aimed at children from K-12 (
  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling provides an extensive collection of tips for people facing serious debt-related financial challenges (click on "Consumer Tips" at
  • Practical Money Skills for Life (, Visa's free personal financial management site, features interactive tools, articles and other resources for children, adults and educators on topics ranging from understanding credit issues to family budgeting to retirement planning.

Don't get paranoid about Amazonian butterflies, but do pay attention to what's going on in the global financial market.

Jason Alderman directs Visa's financial education programs. To participate in a free, online Financial Literacy and Education Summit go to

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how tax laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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